Drinking Water: Cleaning the Berkey

By , July 27, 2016

The last few weeks of sunny, dry weather before the usual July rains began represent the low point of drinking water filtration on our homestead.

When we used one-time filters in a fitted pitcher, we would often find the filters, which are meant to last about a month, clogging after two weeks or less. We learned to set them aside to dry in order to eke out an additional quart or two of filtered water, but after that, we had to throw them away.

Now we have the Berkfield® filtration system, or Berkey (see Drinking Water: Better Filtering). We’re making it through the low point of filtration in a different way; we’re also comparing it to what the directions led us to expect.

Looks like it's time to clean the filters again (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Looks like it’s time to clean the filters again (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

For about a month or so, I’ve cleaned the Berkey filters about every two weeks. Luckily, we can clean them and continue using them, instead of throwing them away!

As a side note, we installed the second set of ceramic column filters (also known as “candles”), moving from two to the maximum four, when Aly came home. It filters water faster, ensuring that we don’t run out—until the scum builds up and slows things down.

We watch for staining on the candles. We also gauge the time it takes to filter a canister of water. As the candles darken, and the filtering time lengthens, we know it’s time to clean the filters.

I’m not entirely sure what this scum actually comes from. As a Southeast Alaskan, I’m used to tannins in tap water, which makes it look like apple juice or weak tea. In some homes, such as Wrangell, it got bad enough to stain white clothes in the washing machine. Apparently, it’s not dangerous, it’s just a part of life.

I don’t know if this scum, which is the same color as the tannins I’m used to, is the tannins themselves, or might perhaps be an algae growing in the summer tank. Either way, it imparts no flavor, it just looks grungy, and slows down the filtering process.

To clean the system, I remove the top cylinder of the filter unit and carefully unscrew the nuts that hold the candles in place. I then remove each candle, careful not to lose my grip on them—the brown slime is extremely slippery! I then scrub the slime off each candle.

According to the instructions, we need to scrub the candles with a plastic scrubbing pad. So far, I’ve just used a cheap kitchen scrubby. The candles don’t come pure ceramic white from the cleaning, but the brown scum sluffs right off.

Cleaned filter on right. Note finger prints on dirty filters from handling (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Cleaned filter on right. Note finger prints on dirty filters from handling (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

I scour the upper urn, then wash out the lower reservoir for good measure, using the filtered water that remains in it. The faucet mounting sits about a half-inch or so off the bottom of the cylinder, so a certain amount of water never gets used. I assume any residues that might get through the filter collect there, so I swish it out and dump it, just to be extra-safe.

I then replace the candles in the upper urn, and reassemble the system. We easily notice dramatically faster filtering afterward.

Eventually, the scum will lessen. In the winter, our water runs quite clear. I’ll keep an eye on the state of the candles after we switch to the winter water tank, and decide then whether or not it’s time to give them a proper scrubbing, as indicated in the instructions.

It’s a light, occasional chore, requiring more careful attention than elbow grease. The water we get as a result is worth every bit of effort!

As before, we received no consideration from British Berkefield® for this post. Unfortunately.

One Response to “Drinking Water: Cleaning the Berkey”

  1. Kate says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for sharing your experience with cleaning the Berkey candles. The photos really illustrate the difference a little scrubbing can make!

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy